“Anxiety attacks are a physical manifestation of a person's mental state”

Many years ago, I was told that an anxiety attack (also known as panic attacks) are a physical manifestation of a person’ mental state. They are not a reflection of a physical illness, even though the symptoms during the anxiety attack itself, are debilitating and deeply distressing. As a result, if the individual is able to take control of their mental state then they can prevent future attacks.

In the UK, an increasingly known and widely quoted statistic is that 1 in 4 people will suffer mental health issues at some point in their lives. This spectrum of mental health issues is wide. Therefore, although this statistic appears shockingly high at the initial hearing, it should be clarified that covers the one of the most common types of mental health issue – that being anxiety. In addition, to people new to the topic there is undoubted misunderstanding as to the individuals suffering from mental health issues. In reality, sufferers are no different from you and me. Mental health does not discriminate. It affects people of all walks of life, age, race, sex, financial standing and/or religion. It is all around us in our society yet it remains highly misunderstood. The best way to increase awareness is for it to be discussed openly in society without prejudice.
What is it?
So you are probably wondering what happens to a person when s/he is experiencing an anxiety attack. What is flowing though their mind? Is the person aware and conscious? What is happening to the physical body?   No two person will experience an anxiety attack in the same way but there are similar characteristics. On the mental side – regular sense of worry or unease, difficulty sleeping, not being able to concentrate, irritable, extra alert, on edge, needing frequent reassurance from other people, feeling tearful. On the physical – pounding heartbeat, fast breathing, palpitations, chest pains, loss of appetite, sweating. Equally, it is possible for a person to experience an anxiety attack with slightly different symptoms each time. In all, its very distressing and confusing.
What can the person do?
Acknowledging there is mental health problem is the first step. There are both drug and psychological therapy and medication to help control the problem.
In the short term, it is possible to control the physical symptoms. The key to recognising the trigger points on the onset of the attack and in the midst of the attack, it is possible to withdraw from the attack without any external intervention which itself is empowering.

  • Practicing deep breathing will temper the chances of hyperventilation. It will reduce stress and provide oxygen to the brain to help the individual to focus
  • Using cognitive diversions will distract the thoughts causing the attack
  • Practicing progressive muscle relaxation will help with refocusing the mind and with relaxing the body from tension
  • Acknowledge the situation and the fear, but provide self-reassurance that there is no danger and self-ability to overcome

In the long term, there is a need to address the core underlying reason that triggers the anxiety attack as ultimately an anxiety attack is a manifestation of the mental state.
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Reference articles:

  1. Understanding anxiety and mental health stigma – http://www.theguardian.com/science/head-quarters/2013/sep/27/neuroscience-psychology
  2. NHS website – http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/Pages/low-mood-stress-anxiety.aspx

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